Landing in Baltra we made our way to the town of Puerto Ayora, a mere bus trip, boat trip and 45 minute second bus trip away from the airport. From the boat we could see birds diving into the water hunting for fish. The dock on the Santa Cruz side of the boat trip had a young sea lion lying across the walkway making everyone step over it. Once we arrived in town we saw our first Sally lightfoot crabs and some baby marine iguanas. Also a family of sea lions and about 15 pelicans waiting around the fisherman's docks for a feed. There's certainly an air of 'unique' about Galapagos from the moment you set foot on the land.
In Puerto Ayora there are a number of things to do and visit:
The Charles Darwin Research Center has breeding programs to repopulate both the Giant Tortoise populations of a number of islands as well as the Land Iguana populations. Both are on the rebound however there is a lot of work yet to be done. A giant tortoise only reaches breeding age around 30 years old. You can see the whole range at the breeding centre from yearlings to breeding age tortoises.
The fish docks were not only great to see while the fishermen sold their catch, some nights there was a small restaurant set up using the fish directly, about as fresh as is possible. I had a local lobster, grilled with garlic. Absolutely delicious.
There are many day trips possible from Puerto Ayora. We only managed to fit one in even with all our time here. We went to South Plazas island. This island contains a huge number of land iguanas on an interesting terrain of red plants and cactus. It is also home to a sea lion colony. When we landed we saw the baby sea lions being tended to by a few of the mothers, the rest out fishing. The large male sea lions were patrolling to keep the sharks away from the frolicking baby sea lions. After visiting the island we had our first Galapagos snorkelling experience, amazingly clear water teeming with fish.
A number of beaches are accessible from Puerto Ayora. One of our favourites was Tortuga Bay, a decent walk from town across the Great Wall of Galapagos. Along the way we saw ghost crabs, marine iguanas, sea lions and a shark swimming in the mangroves. Another great swimming hole is Las Gretas, a crack in the lava wide enough to form a good sized lap pool. It's very deep and many people jump from the rocks along the top.
Another day we hired bicycles and took a taxi up into the hills. Cycling back we visited the Tunel de amor lava tunnels. No idea why they're called that but the lava tunnels were interesting to see. We had them all to ourselves as we walked the kilometre or so. The tunnels are formed when the lava that is in contact with the air cools faster than the lava underneath. This cool lava forms a wall which insulates the lava inside allowing it to keep flowing down hill. Eventually the volcano stops and the last of the lava flows through leaving empty tunnels behind. Continuing our cycling we stopped in at a small village for some ceviche, an Ecuadorian specialty. This was some of the best we had.
While fitting in all this activity we found time to visit the Galapagos Deli enough that the staff started setting their watches by us. Tasty fish and chips paired with delicious maracuya juice meant both Shan and I couldn't resist.
We also scoured the various agents for some last minute cruises. We were fairly disappointed in what we found and generally found better deals emailing the boats directly. In the end we found not one but two!